With plowed snow piling up on the side of many city streets, public safety officials in many Minnesota communities are urging residents to dig out fire hydrants to ensure crews can find and use them when they need to.
At this point in the winter season, some fire hydrants are basically buried -- and not in fluffy snow. The freeze-thaw has left some encased in solid ice. For the firefighters responding to emergencies where time is precious, that can become a dangerous obstacle.
Fox 9 News went hunting for fire hydrants buried in the snow with Brooklyn Park Fire Chief Ken Prillaman. Yet, even with a map showing the location of each of roughly 3,500 hydrants in hand, finding one turned into a guessing game.
"It's literally driving the shovel into the snow until we feel something that feels like a hydrant," Prillaman said.
Just last Saturday, Brooklyn Park firefighters were called to a burning house on Xylon Avenue -- but instead of battling the flames upon arrival, crews had to find and unearth a hydrant first. In fact, Prillaman told Fox 9 News buried hydrants may be one of the greatest threats to public safety.
"I think this is an opportunity for the neighborhood to work together," he said.
Determining whose responsibility it is to keep the hydrant clear of snow can get complicated, especially since there are no laws or ordinances requiring anyone to dig them out. Many public works departments don't have the budgets or crews to do it themselves, and that's why officials are urging residents to coordinate on adopting nearby fire hydrants.
In St. Paul, fire officials created a public safety announcement in an attempt to motivate neighbors to shovel out the more than 7,000 hydrants in the city. Minneapolis does have a small crew dedicated to keeping the city's hydrants clear of snow, but they are behind.
Senior citizens and other people who may be confined to their homes or unable to dig out are urged to contact City Hall or coordinate with neighbors to ensure a nearby fire hydrant can be cleared for access.